The number of workplace fatalities has gone up in recent years, despite the efforts of many employers to raise awareness of safety hazards and conduct safety training seminars. In fact, in 2016, over 5,000 workers were fatally injured in the United States, making it the third year in a row that there was an increase in occupational mortality rates. This also marked the highest number of work-related deaths since 2008. The rise in workplace fatalities has coincided with an increase in anti-union legislation, including the right-to-work law, which states that employees should not be required to join a union and pay the union fees as a condition of employment. However, unions provide a range of important benefits, including promoting a workplace that is safe and free of hazards.
Over the past two decades, Oklahoma, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Missouri have implemented the right-to-work law. The U.S. South region has had similar laws for decades. The growing number of states that have implemented right-to-work laws have resulted in a union decline. Unfortunately, the anti-union trend may have a significant impact on the rate of workplace mortality. While a recent Supreme Court decision in Janus vs American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees banned membership fees for all government employee unions, research shows that the union decline may increase the rate of serious workplace injuries.
Ways That Unions Ensure Workplace Safety
Safety officials identified several ways that unions improve safety in the workplace, including the following:
Workplaces that are unionized are more likely to be inspected for safety violations. If there are hazards that compromise the safety of workers, unions will notify the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and make an official complaint. The threat of a workplace becoming unionized is often enough to make employers take steps to improve the safety conditions in the workplace.
Unionized workplaces often have more comprehensive health insurance. As a result, workers have better access to health care and may experience less stress related to medical expenses and how they are going to pay their medical bills.
Union collective bargaining agreements protect workers’ rights by restricting excessive shifts, making it mandatory for workers to wear safety equipment like gloves, goggles, and helmets, depending on the type of work the employee is doing.
Scholars who study workplace safety agree that unions make workplaces safer. In addition, the decline of unionization is likely going to undermine safety conditions and result in a growing number of work-related injuries and fatalities. Lawmakers, employers, and union organizers are encouraged to consider the impact that right-to-work laws are having on the health and safety of workers.